I couldn’t comprehend why God hadn’t made our first embryo transfer work. I would be a great mother. I would love and care for my baby. On a daily basis I saw children in my clinic who were neglected, verbally mistreated, sometimes physically abused, and often unloved. I heard harsh words from parents and from pregnant mothers stating their frustration at having so many children or at being pregnant once again. All I wanted was one child to call my own. Why wouldn’t God answer my request? I felt more broken than ever, but I was still determined. Again, I wanted a game plan.
My body was starting to feel akin to a lab rat experiment gone wrong. Why was I responding the way that I was to the medications? I was incredibly frustrated and determined to make things work. There must be a solution. There must be a different way that my body would prefer to get mature, great looking eggs without hyperstimulating. I was discouraged at this point but not broken. I was, however, incredibly broke.
We had used all of our savings, my bonus, and most of my incoming salary to pay for the last two cycles. Desperate, we turned to family and loans. Although our families did their best to be generous, their contributions barely put a dent in the ticket price for another full cycle of IVF. Our only other option was to take out a loan. Loans! Oh, how we hated the thought. Four years of med school times two means a lot of student loan debt! By a lot, I mean more than half a million dollars. In addition, I was taking out additional student loans to fund my MPH at Hopkins, which turned out to be just as pricy as medical school. I had been picking up some extra hours working through lunch, and we had been putting any and every extra penny into our IVF fund. Still it wasn’t enough. A loan was the only way to proceed. What other choice did we have? After already having spent almost 20 thousand dollars with nothing to show, we were nervous to dish out more that wasn’t even our own. It was worth it we decided.
With our funding in hand, we were ready to start the process again. Our reproductive endocrinologist was awesome. She spent more than an hour on several occasions discussing options over the phone. She had trained at Harvard and had some experience with different IVF regimens that included a medication called an antagonist. The idea behind the antagonist was that after starting the stimulating medication, I would wait until the ovarian follicles reached a certain point, and then put on the “brakes” with the antagonist. This would allow the process to continue but without the huge spikes in my hormones that we had seen before. I decided that it was worth a shot. What other option did I have?
This cycle was like the other cycles. It started and ended with a lot of shots. By now I didn’t care. Pelvic ultrasound probe exams were as routine as brushing my teeth. Blood draws were as standard as a daily shower. I was hoped that this cycle would be different. I still felt somewhat bloated from the previous cycle, and the steroids that I had taken for the last procedure had added at least a pound to my figure (I’m being very conservative in my estimation here). Comfort eating was actually very comforting to me. Ice cream was an all time favorite. I didn’t care that all my hard work to stay fit and trim was sliding down the toilet. I was pumping myself full of hormones in a last-ditch effort to become a mother. I needed as much comfort as I could get. (Don’t judge!)
My friends were encouraging and hopeful. However, they still couldn’t empathize with how trying the process was on my body, mind, and spirit. My prayer life improved significantly. I think that’s usually the case when you’re desperate. You remember that there is a God who can change the unchangeable. I was so used to working hard and then seeing the prize. I had sacrificed a lot to be a physician; I had put in the hours. Because of my hard work, I had achieved my goals. That was usually my approach to most things. Unfortunately, in the case of infertility, there was nothing that I could do better. I couldn’t work harder. I couldn’t make my body comply. I could only trust my doctors and pray that God would hear me and show me some mercy.
This cycle went much better than the rest. Although I still had higher numbers and tended toward hyperstimulation, things were manageable, and my ovarian follicles looked promising. I was ecstatic. Finally the time came for the egg retrieval. I took my benzo, drank my water, and headed to the procedure room in the hospital. I was nervous, but who wouldn’t have been. I was back into my patient gown, legs in the stirrups, ready for the discomfort that would result in success. The pain was real. The follicles toward the ovarian walls were always the most uncomfortable to retrieve. But, when all was said and done, we had a nice number of eggs. They were whisked off in the incubator, and Dave was asked to contribute his 50% of the equation. I was wheeled off to recovery one more time. Again, I stayed until nightfall. Those pain meds did me in!
When I awoke, I drank my sips of Canada Dry and felt ready to leave. Walking was always uncomfortable, and the meds made me a little tipsy, but the hospital required that I go down in a wheel chair anyway. I had changed into a pair of scrubs and a long-sleeved t-shirt, since none of my pants would fit due to my grapefruit sized ovaries. Dave decided to be a sweetie and ran ahead to pull up the car. The transporter said that she would bring me down to meet him.
The nurse who had been taking care of me was very sweet. She knew Dave and actually went to our church. It was a large church so it wasn’t strange that we hadn’t met there before. As I spoke to her I was somewhat relieved to have some sort of connection with her, but I also felt a little like my privacy was being violated. It wasn’t her fault. She was just doing her job, and she was great at it. It still felt hard to let anyone who was something of an acquaintance know our struggle. I still felt a label on my forehead.
As we wheeled down the hallway, I felt like I was in a dream. Arriving at the elevators, I closed my eyes willing the motion to stop. The transporter spun me around, backing me into the elevator. As we exited the elevator heading toward the main hospital entrance, the nausea grew from an uncomfortable sensation into an imminent warning that I was about to puke! I opened my mouth to warn the transporter, but before I could utter a word, I was vomiting profusely in the main hospital hallway…all over my lap. I begged her to quickly take me to the nearest bathroom. Unfortunately, the vomiting didn’t stop along the way. I’m sure I was quite a sight as I left something of a Hansel and Gretel vomit trail behind me in the main hallway.
Completely soaked and literally sitting in my own vomit, I calmly instructed the transport to push me into the Handicapped stall. She was unsure of what to do. I don’t think that it was her first day, but it was definitely her first time dealing with a vomiting patient in route. “We probably should have brought an emesis basin for the ride,” I quipped. I don’t think that she found my humor funny. I told her to leave me in the bathroom and to go tell my husband that he needed to park the car and come help me find some new clothes. I’m not sure why she thought it was a good option, but she suggested that we put a towel over the seat of the car instead of cleaning me up. I informed her that was not an option. I was going to get changed before I was going anywhere. After what seemed like an unfortunately long time she returned with the good news that Dave would be there in a minute.
You know that feeling that you get when your jeans get wet and stick to your legs? That yucky stickiness was magnified by the vinyl wheelchair seat and the rank aroma. As Dave entered the women’s restroom, I was flooded with relief. He didn’t get too worked up about much, and vomit didn’t scare him; he even made the fact that he was standing in a women’s handicapped stall with a wife covered in puke seem a little less tragic. He simply said, “Are you okay? Let’s get you into something clean.” As he slowly pushed my wheelchair back to the recovery floor, I was reminded that we were in this together. None of it was ideal, but we did have each other to lean on. Baby or not, we were a family. Dave used his badge to swipe us back into the Same Day Recovery Unit. The nurses were horrified that they hadn’t sent a barf bag with me. “Ah well, par for the course,” I said with a laugh. If we had to do a retrieval again…which I prayed that we wouldn’t…I would be prepared with a bucket in hand.